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‘Service Uninterrupted: Memoirs of M.M. Rajendran’ review: Stories from the steel frame

At 29, M.M. Rajendran, a Tamil Nadu cadre IAS officer and 1957 batch topper, got his first lessons in disaster management. As Ramanathapuram Collector, he dealt with the aftermath of the December 1964 cyclone, which left the Dhanushkodi port town in ruins.

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This experience came in handy 35 years later when he took oath as Governor, a fortnight after a super cyclone paralysed Odisha. The Giridhar Gamang government appeared clueless on tackling the devastation. In Service Uninterrupted: Memoirs of M.M. Rajendran, the author recounts Gamang telling him in “no uncertain terms” that he had no objections to the Governor providing “leadership” for relief and rehabilitation work.

Odisha innings

“The Chief Secretary had been allowed to go on leave after the cyclone hit the State,” he notes. Thereupon Rajendran coordinated the rebuilding of Odisha, talking among others to Chief Minister of nearby Andhra Pradesh for help, besides engaging with the Prime Minister. Gamang’s successors Hemanand Biswal and Naveen Patnaik, also looked up to Rajendran for guidance. The memoirs say Patnaik endorsed the Governor’s meetings with district officials. He even got his list of Council of Ministers vetted by Rajendran dropping two names on the latter’s objections. Such a political course is uncommon in Rajendran’s IAS cadre State where the Governor is largely seen as a ceremonial head.

His Odisha innings is covered extensively in the second part where he comes across as taking earnest efforts for the welfare of the State and in developing its universities. The first part deals with Rajendran’s early life and years as civil servant during which he worked closely with several Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers from K. Kamaraj to M. Karunanidhi.

Conspicuously, he skips some details about the violence that followed while recording two important sessions of the Legislative Assembly — when MGR’s widow Janaki Ramachandran moved a vote of confidence in January 1988 and when Karunanidhi presented the budget in March 1989. As Chief Secretary he showed Karunanidhi’s broken glasses to then Governor P.C. Alexander and gave him an “objective version” of the day’s happenings. But he does not describe the physical attack on then leader of the Opposition Jayalalithaa.

Rajendran, as Labour Commissioner, had a role in ending a strike lasting over 100 days at The Hindu in 1968. Despite his stints in the UNICEF and the Government of India, he was not appointed Cabinet Secretary, the politics behind which, he bitterly discusses at length.

Controversial version

He reveals certain little-known aspects of why Prime Minister Chandrasekhar dismissed the Karunanidhi government and the circumstances under which Congress MPs abstained from voting on Supreme Court judge Ramaswamy’s impeachment motion.

The book erroneously mentions Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1992 [May 21, 1991]. Also, it says attempts by some AIADMK leaders to prevent Jayalalithaa from climbing on to the gun carriage carrying MGR’s coffin, was “not to much avail”. In reality, she was pushed out. He controversially advocates that “Tamils had migrated to Sri Lanka when it was under British rule”.

The memoir provides interesting anecdotes about popular politicians and covers some significant events. Perhaps, Rajendran could have avoided detailing the numerous functions he attended.

Service Uninterrupted: Memoirs of M.M. Rajendran; M.M. Rajendran, Har-Anand Publications, ₹795.

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